Cooper Union

College reviewed by Lisa Bleich

I recently visited Cooper Union, a conservatory-based college for Art, Architecture, and Engineering. The campus is integrated into lower Manhattan and Astor Square near 9th and Broadway with two large academic buildings.  It shares the neighborhood with NYU so there are numerous college students in the area.

One houses art and architecture with a large auditorium on the lower floor and the other main academic building, built in 2009, is the engineering building.  The engineering building is incredibly modern with a steel staircase and industrial looking materials used throughout the building down to a steel mesh panel in the elevator.

Students work hard!  The average course load is 19 credits and many students have between 7-8 courses per semester including a mandatory design course, chemistry, calculus, and an optional course to teach social skills and public speaking for freshmen.  Our tour guide, Jessica, hailed from Buffalo, New York, but spent time living in Europe and chose Cooper Union over MIT because of its urban feel, small classes, and focus on undergraduate education. 

Jessica is majoring in electrical engineering, a predominantly male major (5 out of the 20 freshmen EE majors are women, while overall 36.8% of the student body is female).  While she loves everything about Cooper, she wishes there were more girls in the engineering school and at least a few female professors. 


As we toured the engineering school, we saw numerous groups of students working together in labs, in the café, or common areas.  Students were an eclectic mix of urban, techy, artsy, international, and New York Street chic.

We crossed the street to the art building and saw an entire floor of roughly 125 architecture students happily working away on their designs in an open environment.  CU offers a 5-year Bachelor of Architecture and a 4-year BFA.

Roughly 40% of students live on campus and the rest commute.  There is a dorm for freshmen right next to the engineering building, but after freshman year, students must find their own housing.  Cooper is trying to expand housing for sophomores as well. 

Five qualities make Cooper Union unique among its peers: its size, its location, its conservatory style education, its interdisciplinary approach between art, architecture and engineering, and its tuition structure.

Size.  Cooper Union has fewer than 1,000 students.  Its incoming freshman class for architecture is between 30-35 students, for art 60-70 students and for engineering 125 students divided among four engineering disciplines: Civil, Electrical, Mechanical, and Chemical Engineering.

Location.  CU is located right in the heart of Manhattan, which provides outstanding opportunities on every level.


Conservatory style education.  Students come into CU knowing what they want to study.  Since it is so small and so select, students are admitted to specific majors.  There is some ability to change majors within a given school, (our tour guide switched from mechanical to electrical engineering), but it’s not that common.  For art and architecture, it allows for extreme talent to lead in the admission process over academics.  It also provides a depth of opportunities in a given area.

Interdisciplinary approach. CU fosters students working across disciplines.  This creates a lot of opportunity for innovation.  They recently launched a program called Invention Factory, a five-week summer program where students create a product or service, create a proof of concept and file a patent.  This year’s winner created a cardboard box that reduced the time to assemble.  This product not only won the contest, but also received interest from Amazon to purchase the product.

Tuition structure.  For the past almost 100 years, CU has discounted its tuition 100%.  This incoming class will be the first cohort to receive only a half tuition discount of $20,000. This extends to international students as well.  The jury is still out how much this will impact its enrollment numbers, but even though it is no longer free, it is still a great bargain for the type of education provided.


Admission to Cooper Union is competitive! Our tour guide said that the admissions rate for architecture students is .3%!  For the Schools of Art and Architecture, CU looks for students who want to be the best; students who are constantly painting, drawing, sculpting, or thinking about art.  There is an at home component for both the art and architecture programs. 

Art students must do a home test and the School of Architecture students are given a studio test.  These are highly challenging projects that largely determine admissions.  Academically, most admitted students have a B+ average and a 1250+ on the SATs (CR and M).

For the School of Engineering, academics are at the forefront of admissions, particularly in the math and sciences.  Most students have taken a rigorous schedule and are in the top 10% of their class.  They have also received an A in AP Calculus BC and AP Physics C. 

Most students have SATs of 1400+ in critical reading and math.  They also like to see the Math 1 or 2 subject tests along with Chemistry or Physics with a score of 750+.  CU also likes to see summer pre-college programs in science or engineering.


Cooper Union is a great school for cosmopolitan artists or techy students who want the benefit of small, intimate classes with the backdrop of New York City and are not afraid to work hard.

Cooper Union

30 Cooper Square

New York, NY 10003

(212) 353-4100


Photos from the visit

Cooper Union
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